I don’t wade very often into the waters of political argument, and I particularly avoid politics online. I’m opinionated and sarcastic, and I am notoriously bad at letting things go, so it would be far too easy for me to get sucked into some Facebook black hole.
The next thing you know, I’m scrolling through hundreds of comments, and comments about comments, and clicking links, and posting links, and then I wake up one day and realize I never finished that book I intended to write.
Also, though I believe my opinions are well-informed, I’m not an expert on constitutional law, or gender issues, or the Civil War, or theology. Some opinions I’m sure I inherited, just like you. Some of what I believe is based on what I’ve read, or what I’ve heard, just like you.
I am a liberal, and not one of those ‘liberal on social issues but conservative on financial issues’ liberals. Stated another way, I’m probably the only one in my group of friends who thinks Bernie Sanders isn’t socialist enough.
Obviously, as a progressive, I want Big Government to use your tax dollars to pay for gigantic murals of naked gay men burning the Confederate flag. Like most liberals, I’m working to convert churches into drive-through abortion clinics. We also plan to force your children to attend secret Muslim schools, where they will be indoctrinated about climate change and evolution.
Most of my friends on Facebook are lefties, too, but I also have friends with whom I vigorously disagree on some of the biggest issues of the day. Sometimes, when these friends pop up in my news feed, I find myself reading things of a more conservative nature. I have yet to see anything that leads me to put down my rainbow flag and join a Bible study group, but still, I try to look at both sides of most arguments.
There are some brilliant minds on the right, and I’ve read plenty of conservative pieces that, were, if not persuasive, certainly thought-provoking. I have no problems wandering around on conservative websites; the comment section is where you lose me. I don’t think I’m the only liberal who reads the comment threads attached to conservative articles for kicks. I’m sure these hyperbolic, hyperventilating commenters don’t represent conservatives as a whole, but they do make you look bad.
I don’t have any new ideas for bridging the cultural divide, but I think I can help in matters of style. I was an English major, and I was in the Debate Club in high school, so I feel qualified to offer some tips for communicating your ideas. This isn’t meant to say that, by ignoring these rules, you are stupid. However, if you type like you’re illiterate, you will seem stupid, no matter how smart your message may be.
speling. Punctu-ation!! And, grammar?
If the far right wants a chance at winning the hearts of godless, immoral, weak, traitorous liberals like myself, maybe it should start with opinions that don’t read like dialogue from a “Dukes of Hazzard”/”700 Club” crossover episode.Look, we all make typos, but when every third word is misspelled, it’s harder to take your point seriously. Especially if your point is about the benefits of homeschooling.
Speaking of points, let’s talk exclamations. Your arguments do not become more convincing when you add multiple exclamation points!!!!! Other punctuation marks matter, too. If you leave out commas, randomly throw in quotation marks and use apostrophes for no good reason, we simple-minded liberals will have more trouble understanding you.
As far as language is concerned, if you need to throw in the occasional curse word for emphasis, commit to it. Either swear or don’t, because replacing letters with random typographic symbols looks like half-@55ed 8ullsh!t. Combine that with “unnecessary” punctuation and bad spelling, and it looks like you had a small stroke while you were typing.
You might dismiss these writing rules as the creation of left-wing university elitists trying to stifle your First Amendment right to free expression. Maybe criticizing the errant placement of a comma is mere nitpicking, and the content of your opinion is what matters most.
In that case, my Maoist comrades and I have only one request: when you post a comment, WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP CAPITALIZING EVERYTHING? We get it. You’re angry. Your country is going to Hell, and you want us to wake up. The problem is, if you use ALL CAPS, you don’t seem passionate, you just seem unhinged.
It must feel very empowering to hit the ‘caps lock’ key and let that righteous rage flow. You need to realize, though, that if you EMPHASIZE EVERYTHING in your comment, we simple-minded liberals might get confused about what’s really important, and we might miss your point.
Besides, when you YELL an entire paragraph, you remind me of an angry dad in an old-timey cartoon, with bulging eyes and actual steam coming out of his ears. Old-timey cartoons make me laugh, which I don’t believe is the reaction you want.
Just the Facts
Some commenters seem nostalgic for a time in our country when you could tell people anything you heard, without any proof, and worrying about if it was, in a technical sense, true. Sadly, in the internet era, you can’t really make up things anymore. That’s because whatever screen is displaying the made-up story you shared is also connected to the internet. Which means we all now have access to information from other sources, and can do our own fact-checking.
Last week, Breitbart, one of the most popular conservative websites, had a front-page editorial which told readers “The Supreme Court abolished traditional marriage.” Now, before you call Aunt Marge and Uncle Ed to console them on the court-ordered end to their state of matrimony, you should know that is not what actually happened.
Unfortunately, when you accept a piece of fiction without looking any deeper, and then comment on it, all of your friends accept it as true, because you’re their friend—why would you lie? Then they tell their friends, and they tell their friends, and so on, and in no time, we have half the country believing that Obama has imposed Sharia Law in all fifty states.
It isn’t that the left doesn’t have our share of skewed, factually deficient propaganda rags, and I’m not begrudging either side for taking creative liberties with the truth for effect. Here’s an idea, though—how about, before commenting on something that you were told ‘happened,’ take a minute or two to find out if it actually happened.
One commenter, referring to the President’s statements after the Charleston massacre, wrote “There were no riots, lawlessness, killing of officers, burnings and lootings until Obama’s race-baiting.” Really? None of that ever happened in this country prior to 2015?
Please, people. You’re holding a smartphone while you’re commenting. Before you click ‘post,’ open a browser and do a quick search. If Google and Siri think you’re wrong, you might want to pause before posting.
Inevitably, in almost every conservative comment thread, someone will spout the following example of ‘fuzzy truth’: “All of our freedoms are being taken from us.” Forget about the fact that most of the two hundred nations on Earth would happily sign up for just one or two of the freedoms you still have left.
Instead, for perspective, try to appreciate that you live in a country where you can freely post hate-filled, ugly comments about the elected leader of the country in a public forum and not spend following thirty years in a prison camp. I think it’s a stretch to say all of your freedoms are gone, so take a minute and breathe.
Comparing Apples to Nazis
If we are going to discuss things, you need to stop comparing liberal policies to Nazi doctrine, and stop comparing anyone to Adolf Hitler. Demonizing your opponent is cliché and boring, so you lose style points there. You know as well as I do that no U.S. president, no matter how liberal their agenda, has ever put in motion a policy to systematically kill millions of people, so stop the false equivalence.
If you must compare the president to someone evil, pick someone from that Bible you quote so frequently. Compare him to Herod, or Cain, or Abimelech. We will still get the idea. Oh, and while we’re talking analogies, let’s dial back the ‘last days of the Roman Empire’ talk. Unless you have a degree in history from an accredited university and can attach a bibliography, I will not be convinced that any one Supreme Court decision or executive order will turn us into Ancient Rome.
Promulgating fuzzy truths is one thing, but name-calling? Both sides are guilty, but the far right seems to get a special charge out of coming up with insulting puns based on the president’s name. “Obummer.” “Nobama.” Worse still, it is not unusual to see the First Lady referred to as “Moochelle.”
That’s some smart social satire, there. This kind of juvenile crap makes you sound like the mean kids in the back of an eighth grade classroom, except that I think most eighth-graders would be bored by it. As adults, it’s flat out embarrassing. Then again, I’m just another mindless ‘libtard,’ right?
Of course, the conservative fringe would say, “If you don’t like us, get out of our country.” Ignoring the massive cognitive dissonance (whose country?), this is just more elementary school behavior (“No — you get out of OUR country!”). I know we’re a ‘young’ nation, but maybe we could act like grownups when discussing grownup things.
A few more tips …
Stop quoting Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter. As an exercise, try to form an argument without any reference to anyof them, and without using any words or phrases you might have heard them use.
Enough with the fire-related analogies. Pastors threatening to immolate themselves, calls for America to suffer the flames of torment, suggestions that the country be burned to the ground . . . One of the most popular conservative websites is named The Blaze. If you’ll put down your torches and stop acting like the villagers in Frankenstein, we might be able to find some middle ground.
Finally, when you simply repost something that has been shared tens of thousands of times and ask people to type ‘Amen’, you are not contributing anything to the conversation. Try something called ‘critical thinking.’ It might lead to something called ‘an original idea.’
I am not implying that all conservatives are uninformed, semi-literate, childish religious zealots. I am saying that some people on the far right are all of these things, and since they have internet access, they are hurting your cause. Of course, I look forward to your comments.